Pope Francis' first moves hint at break with past
- 16 March 2013
- From the section Europe
The first 48 hours of the pontificate of Pope Francis have given the world a foretaste of what it is going to be like to have a Jesuit priest for the first time in history as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholic believers.
Minutes after the election result was declared in the Sistine Chapel, a Vatican official called the Master of Ceremonies offered to the new Pope the traditional papal red cape trimmed with ermine that his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI gladly wore on ceremonial occasions.
"No thank you, Monsignore," Pope Francis is reported to have replied. "You put it on instead. Carnival time is over!"
It was just one small sign out of many this week that as Massimo Franco, one of Italy's shrewdest political editorial writers, commented in the Corriere Della Sera, "the era of the Pope-King and of the Vatican court is over".
You only had to look at the shocked faces of many of the courtiers when they suddenly realised the significance of what had happened and understood that it really was over.
Another moment of truth occurred when Pope Francis broke the seals of the Papal Apartment in the Apostolic Palace to take possession of his new home. Vatican officials genuflected and bowed as Archbishop George Gaenswein, secretary of the now retired Pope Benedict but still master of the papal household, searched for the light switch while the Pope stood motionless for a moment, outlined in the dark, surveying the scene.
"There's room for 300 people here," he's reported to have remarked. "I don't need all this space."
The new Pope has given no indication yet of his key choice of future number two, the Vatican secretary of state. Clearly the Italian cardinals and monsignori who have been running the Vatican under Pope Benedict would all like to be confirmed in their jobs (all Vatican senior posts lapse when there is a vacancy of the Holy See). But many will be disappointed.
Pope Francis intends to make his senior appointments at his own pace and in his own time, and is expected to make significant changes within weeks in the way the slow-moving Vatican bureaucracy works.
What has fascinated observers of the Vatican scene is that the new Pope has no close personal secretary or aide following him around comparable to George Gaenswein, the personal shadow of former Pope Benedict.
Only hours after his election the new Pope slipped out of the Vatican in an unmarked car to pray at a Rome basilica where the founder of his order once prayed. And then he asked the driver to stop at the hotel for clergy in the centre of Rome where he had been staying before the conclave to pay his bill and pick up his bags.
The following day he again left the Vatican, incognito, to visit a sick friend in hospital.
The new pope is a frugal man, a friend of the poor, in the long tradition of another icon of the Catholic Church, whose name he has borrowed, St Francis of Assisi. As bishop he was used to travelling around Buenos Aires on public transport and cooking for himself in a small apartment.
He has already told his fellow bishops in Argentina not to waste their money on travelling to Rome for his installation ceremony but to give the money instead to the poor.
So be prepared for some further surprises.
The Jesuits are not only the largest religious order in the Church but also the most revolutionary. Founded by a soldier turned mystic, Saint Ignatius Loyola, in the 16th Century, they have a tradition of intellectual and spiritual rigour which suggests that the Vatican is about to undergo a reset with huge implications for the future of the Roman Catholic Church in the 21st Century.
The Society of Jesus, to give the order its official title, although proclaiming its unswerving loyalty to the Pope in Rome, has at various times in its history tangled with the Roman curia and has even been suppressed in many parts of the world, only to re-emerge.
There was widespread speculation before the conclave that the Roman Catholic Church was about to elect its first black pope from Africa.
Instead the cardinals chose this 76-year-old Jesuit whose order is headed by a priest called the superior general, in homage to the military origin of its founder. He is also known - in popular language - as "the Black Pope" because of the colour of his habit.
The current head of the Society of Jesus is a Spanish priest, Adolfo Nicolas, who has his headquarters just across the road from the Vatican. He immediately sent a message of congratulation to his fellow Jesuit Pope Francis on his election.
It is worth remembering that it was a previous "Black Pope", Father Hans Kolvenbach, who first broke the tradition that the general of the Jesuits, just like the Pope, was a lifelong appointment. He stepped down in 2008 when he reached the age of 80, suggesting a new precedent that "White Popes" might also like to follow.